MANATEE -- A private Christian school touting a focus on business, film and athletics is opening this fall in the former Bradenton Preparatory Academy building.
Entrepreneur Jason Eddie Speir contracted to purchase the property for $3.6 million to start Inspiration Academy.
Inspiration Academy is a Christian high school that aims to integrate the Bible and "faith" into the school's lesson plans, Speir said. The students' day will be divided into general classroom time, the school's professional experience program, physical education, and optional elite sports and film academy programs.
The school is opening the first week of September and anticipates its inaugural enrollment to be 15 to 25 students.
Next year, Speir wants to cap out at around 100 students.
Speir, a Colorado native and the father of three -- ages 20, 19 and 14 -- said he moved to Bradenton three years ago to send his children to IMG Academy.
Speir, an IT business owner, has no experience working in education, and he could not quite put a finger on how is background led him to opening a private school.
"Lauren, why am I opening a school again?" Speir jokingly asked his assistant, Lauren Enriquez.
"Because you are a God-fearing man and you do as asked," Enriquez replied. "This is your calling."
Speir said the professional experience program and the school's unique "Sabbath on Mondays" program are what make Inspiration Academy unique.
In the professional experience program, managers from Speirs' businesses come in and show examples of performance data, balance sheets and funding to teach students about real world experience of starting up a business.
Speir is the owner of several businesses, including 3t Systems, a company based out of Colorado that outsources IT services for businesses; Inspired Events, an event planning and public relations firm; Super Pool Service; Moses Lawn Care; and Tucked In Media, a film production company.
"They will get real world experience to help them find a path," Speir said. "There are often missed opportunities for kids to become more well-rounded."
Speir said the school will observe the Sabbath on Mondays. Speir has hired Dave Mullins, a pastor of over 20 years, as the school's chaplain.
Speir also selected Kelly Lopez, a former teacher at Braden River High School, to serve as Inspiration Academy's principal.
"Monday will be more of a social day," Lopez said. "Students will meet in small groups for mini services and talk about relating the Bible to their lives. There will also be team-building activities, and once a quarter we will volunteer with Meals on Wheels."
Speir said he does not intend to "force the Bible" on any of Inspiration Academy's students.
"The Sabbath teaches students to have proper rest days," Speir said.
Outside of regular course work and electives, Speir said students will also have the option of joining the film academy or the elite sports program.
Tuition for Inspiration Academy is $19,500 per year.
For the elite sports academy, tuition is an additional $15,000. For the film academy, tuition is an additional $20,000.
There is also additional tuition for those who choose to board at the school.
Lopez said Inspiration Academy will rent first-level apartments in Champions Walk on 53rd Avenue West, which has also housed IMG Academy students. Inspiration Academy's baseball coach and the director of student affairs and his wife, who is a registered nurse, will also live there.
The cost is $18,000 to live with three other students, $24,000 for a "semi-private room" with individual bedrooms and a common living area and $30,000 for a private apartment.
Speir says he expects four to eight students will board this year, and he eventually envisions drawing international students.
"We stand on the shoulders of schools that have great innovation and improve the academics," Speir said.
Bryan Shobe, the athletic director for Inspiration Academy, said the elite sports academy will offer lacrosse, baseball and tennis along with endurance training and weight training.
"You need discipline to succeed in life and in sports," Shobe said.
Speir said that Inspiration Academy's film program will include a film studio with production equipment.
Students will have the opportunity to aid in the production of Spear's Tucked In Media films Ragamuffin, a film about chaplain Mullin's brother, who was a Christian singer in the 1980s, and Admirals of the Black, a film about five orphans who go on a treasure hunt.
Speir said he hopes to add more academies, based on student interest.
Lopez said that students at Inspiration Academy will follow the K-12 International Academy curriculum for their academics. Classes will be a mixture of online schooling and in-person instruction.
Inspiration Academy has a full staff for its first year including the athletic director, director of admissions, a director of student affairs, a director of college placement, similar to a guidance counsellor, and five or six teachers, Speir said.
Jaime Carver, the director of admissions at Inspiration Academy and the former director of admissions at the Out of Door Academy, said that Inspiration Academy purposely has limited enrollment for this year.
"We want to offer first-rate experience," Carver said. ""We want to start with fewer students and make sure it is the right fit for each one."
To attend Inspiration Academy, students must submit an application along with a questionnaire and tour the school as a "student for the day."
Parents are also expected to fill out a questionnaire.
"The point is to really get to know the students and families through the process," Carver said. "We will look at how we can meet their specific needs."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.